Public's farewell to Nancy Reagan comes to an end

Day two of Nancy Reagan's public memorial came to a close Thursday afternoon, as the last of her admirers hopped on shuttle buses and left the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library.

The second day of public viewing of the former first lady lying in repose in Simi Valley brought around 1,500 people to the library. More than 3,000 attended Wednesday. A private burial will be held Friday.

Reagan would have been surprised that so many members of the public came to pay their respects, said James Manning, special assistant to President Reagan and director of projects to the first lady. 

But those who knew her wouldn't be, he said. 

"She did everything she could in this world," Manning said as he stood outside the library. "Every first lady stands behind the president, but everyone doesn't take an approach to important issues as she did." 

Nancy Reagan always wanted to make a difference, Manning recalled. And when she and the president were in the room together, "it was electric."

"I'm quite confident that today they're in each other's arms," he said. 

The final shuttles made their way down the hill around 2 p.m., past the flags flown at half-staff and beyond the miniature American flags dotting the road.

Brandey Lane, 65, brought a bouquet of roses and lilies to honor Reagan. She knew she'd have to leave them behind before boarding the shuttle to the library, but she brought them anyway. The flowers were a way to pay respect to a "classic."

"She showed love and strength for being such a little lady," Lane said.

Nancy Reagan was a model of grace, intelligence and compassion for women — a first lady who refused to take the back seat, Lane added.

"She was the last of a certain culture in our society," said Lane, who voted for Ronald Reagan. "Look at the people who are running for president now and how they talk."

The line to board buses to the library snaked through a parking lot about five miles from the building. Some clutched umbrellas to protect themselves from the heat; others donned large sun hats and big sunglasses.

Teresa Spragges of Palm Springs came to witness a piece of history. The 61-year-old attended the funerals for presidents Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford, but said she missed Ronald Reagan's.

When she heard the public would be able to visit following Nancy Reagan's death, she thought, "We've got to go."

"They were a designer couple," she said of the Reagans.

Hundreds of people had paid their respects to Reagan by 11:30 a.m. Thursday. Steve Ziegler hopped off the bus after spending the morning at the library with his sister, Neva.

The experience was "surreal," Ziegler said.

"Ronald Reagan was the first president I was able to vote for," he said.

Ziegler recalled a day in the late 1980s, when he attended a retreat in Santa Barbara with about 30 other people. It began to pour, he said, and two of the cars were stuck.

Luckily, the group had been staying down the road from Rancho Del Cielo, the Reagans' vacation home in Santa Barbara.

Ziegler, who was in his late 20s at the time, said the president sent down secret service agents in large cars to help them out.

"They said, 'The president noticed you were having trouble,' " Ziegler said.

It only bolstered his respect for the president and first lady. Nancy Regan's death, he said, marked the end of a "sense of class and dignity" that permeated the White House.

"It's that 'city on a hill' mentality," he said.

Inside the library, Brielle Fraire got her first taste of a political science lesson.

"Why is she a first lady?" the 5-year-old asked her grandmother, Martha Santana.

"Because she married the president," Santana, 55, replied.

"I think she was a first lady because she was so nice," Brielle said.

Santana, a pastor, said she respected the Reagans "for the love they had toward people."

"We need those role models today," she said after returning from the library.

Dressed in pearls, a blazer and a sun hat, Santana said she intentionally wore nice clothes as an homage to the former first lady's sense of style.

Nancy Reagan, she said, wanted to "make the world a nicer place."

"She's shoulder to shoulder with Reagan," Santana said. "Not behind him."

"She was the force behind Reagan," Santana's sister, Gilda Thongchua, said. "That's being real. ... That's being a couple."

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